Student Deaths Prompt Renewed Concerns about Fraternity House Fire Safety

CHICAGO – Fire officials are becoming more forceful in the campaign to have fraternity and sorority houses outfitted with sprinkler systems after the recent fire-related deaths of two fraternity students at separate colleges.

On Nov. 17, 19-year-old Nebraska Wesleyan University student Ryan Stewart died from smoke inhalation after his Phi Kappa Tau fraternity house caught on fire. On Nov. 29, Brian Schlittler, a 25-year-old senior at the University of Missouri in St. Louis, died when a fire broke out in his Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity house. The causes of both fires are still under investigation.

Fires officials in Columbus, Mo., and Urbana, Ill., are hoping to convince their communities to pass ordinances similar to the ones enacted in Lawrence, Kan., and Chapel Hill, N.C. These cities have passed legislation requiring Greek houses to install automatic sprinkler systems.

Some fraternity organizations, however, argue that some of their buildings are too old to be retrofitted with automatic sprinkler systems. Furthermore, they say, raising the funds to install such systems is not a feasible option for some local chapters.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, between 1973 and 2003 a total of 77 students were killed in 49 fires in dormitories and fraternity and sorority houses. More than half of these fires occurred in fraternity houses, with only one occurring in a sorority house.

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